Many years ago, a King ruled from the land on which you stand to where the land meets the water in all directions. The man was a tyrant, a glutton and a man of moral turpitude. Not unlike other kings, and some queens, it could truthfully be said. This King, however, had a religious zeal which flew like a gale, and the consistency of conviction of a wind cockerel in that gale. Unfortunately the two do not mix well, and his favour fell where it fell depending on his mood and desires. This, combined with his absolute rule and power, led to the execution of thousands of his own people because of their differing beliefs in God, during his near forty year rule. Here follows the story of one of them, a young lady by the name of Daralis Drewet. A most interesting lady, who suffered a cruel and unusual end.
Daralis was married off at a young age by her parents, to a man she did not love. It had been arranged that this man, James, was to marry her elder sister, but she died prematurely as people tended to do with greater frequency back then. Being a strong and intelligent lady, Daralis, who could read and write, composed her own poems; which was unheard of at the time for a lady. She was also religiously devout. Devotion was not so unheard of, but hers was to be her undoing; for the man she was married to did not share her religion. Herein lay her real problem as neither (at the time, for as mentioned his whim whipped him from side to side) did the King.
Daralis dutifully bore this man, James, two children and then finally fled to the capital city. Here she met and mixed with others who shared her beliefs, as one tends to find happens in any capital city even today. Daralis desired divorce, another rather unheard of concept, and sought it on grounds that her marriage was not valid by the theological difference between her and her estranged husband’s beliefs. As an intelligent, religious woman, and with no small amount of bravery living under religious persecution, Daralis began to preach her religion to others.
The King, who was concerned that his wife (his current wife, another commodity he found feeling to change frequently) was secretly a believer in the same religion as Daralis. The King had his spies out in the city to uncover more about what his wife might be up to, this is where they came across Daralis. Daralis was identified as a preacher, then found, arrested, and brought in for interrogation, which was not merely unpleasant. Those of a weaker constitution should perhaps stop reading here, as the story now gets much darker and more bloody, sadly.
His Majesty had a favourite torturer, although his title was not that. This man's name was Edward Gowde, and he was to “interrogate” young Daralis at the Great Tower, which stood in the city and hid the dire deeds done in the King's name from the paupers and plebs trawling through the sewage that passed for streets outside it. The Great Tower, naturally, was well known to be the epicentre of torture for the realm, but intricate details of the most extreme pain inflicted upon the King's subjects did not escape. Often as it was not survived, and if it were then ceremonial execution followed it. Edward had preferred methods of “enhanced interrogation”, as torturers tend to do. Some like working with your eyes; salt, sand, spoons and worse. Others prefer fingers, or teeth, or flaying the skin. You get the idea.
Now Edward, Edward Gowde the King's Chief Examiner, he liked thumbs. Have you ever seen a thumbscrew? Simply put, it is a tightening set of iron bars which slowly crush one's opposables. Inventive use of these is excruciating, and can involve small spikes in the device – and Edward was particularly, cruelly, creative. The Kingdom's average “examinee” would capitulate often before their thumbs did the same, with Edward in the room. He was sent to work on Daralis, confident in his ability to reduce people to a gory mess crying a stream of the words he wanted to hear, and the misguided belief that he was doing "God's work". The King being essentially God on Earth.
Daralis, as she was thought to be able to provide what could pass as proof regarding the King's wife's religious practices, was given Edward's most concentrated work. She remained, though clearly in agony and in the face of extreme beating, accusations and shouting, completely silent. Not whimpering once, least of all to implicate anyone- as most would under torture. Even if it were not true. Bloodied and no longer with the use of her thumbs or big toes, she was returned to her cell. Edward had another plan. The rack.
This time he was supported in his endeavours to extract what the King wanted by four priests. The rack “works” by stretching a person from their four extremities in two opposing directions. To give you a very small idea, hold your left hand where it is and pull your index finger away from it as hard as you can with your right hand. Most people of sound mind will cease pulling after a mere click, or small smart. The rack is ratcheted slowly, and can be held, until the victim is suspended from its chassis, arms forced toward the heavens and legs torn down to earth. Your sockets will dislocate, then your joints will snap as the ligaments and sinew in them frays and tears apart like old rope. Theoretically you could be ripped in two, but it would be the amateur (and one should imagine much chastised) torturer who manages that. Before a confession, anyway. Edward and the priests went to work on Daralis and though through the pops of joints, cracks of ligament, and screams which could be heard from the nearby market, she did not tell them what they wished her to. The King was furious. He demanded they return and try again, but Thomas, one of the priests told him,
“Your Majesty, though we inflicted anguish and pain. She did not recant, she did not confess, she did not blame. Nay, she praised God! The woman was not affected by flattery, promises nor threats of death by fire. She simply replied that she was borne from ash, and unto ash she would return.”
The King's face reeled in anger, as if trying to escape from these words of defiance! He demanded she be taken to the most filthy gaol, with no visitors, until her execution by immolation three days hence.
Her three days in the gaol over, having lain in the fetid cell given her; the stench and noise of the city streaming in day and night, denying her the charity of some sleep, it came that Daralis was to be transported to the pyre for execution. As she could move nought but her neck, she was strapped to a chair, and thrown on the cart with the three men who were also to die that day. The cart itself was excruciating as it bounced, jerked and tediously progressed toward their final destination. There was a mix of mood among the condemned, as one would expect. One man sobbed, and begged those watching their journey – as watching the dead and dying was something of a pastime- for help. Another stayed completely silent, catatonic almost. The other, a religious person like Daralis, knelt by her chair and they prayed quietly through her agony. As they neared the pyre the crowds grew, as did their noise, and the sky, already threatening and overcast, began to crackle as if in anticipation. The heavens whet their lips.
The audience for the execution formed a ring around the pyre, a high wooden bench seated the Mayor and Chancellor, among other dignitaries. The King was absent, Dalaris was nobody to him after all, just something he had hoped to use for his own ends. Now she was to be discarded. As the men were tied to their stakes the clouds growled and grumbled, and while Dalaris' chair was roughly hoisted from the cart some drizzle fell as the heavens salivated. Due to her having been cruelly crippled, Daralis was chained to her stake. Around her ankles, knees, waist and under her shoulders the chain was constricted. Her disarticulated arms fell limp by her side, outside of the chains, causing her great pain. When the spectacle began the priest demanded of each of the condemned that they recant, and be spared the slow agony of burning. The man who sobbed did immediately, and his reward was to be garrotted before the faggots were thrown and the fire lit. His upright corpse was left in situ to be engulfed with the other three.
The second man, who had been quiet on the journey, simply stared vacantly at the priest, who was conducting his demands with great ceremony for the assembled crowds. Finally the man nodded, and after repeating it for the priest's show he too was garrotted at his stake. Daralis' fellow believer refused, however, and he was left to burn. Then the priest turned to Daralis, and addressing her as if she were a simple schoolgirl, insisted that surely she could not brave the flames for such a small matter as religion. Dalaris refused. The crowd booed and threw things, which the priest took as a cue to continue his dramatics more fervently with her. Again he asked, and again she was tight lipped. This time the priest seemed stupefied by her stoicism, angered at her arrogance, and screamed his demand at her a third time. With the wind now whipping across their assembly a brief moment of sun touched down on Daralis and the men in the centre of this spectacle. As if gathering courage from this, and through her pain at raising her voice over the crowd Daralis exclaimed,
“That which I have preached, I shall seal with my blood!”
The rabble relented their shouts and jeers. A hush fell and the dignitaries on their bench turned in shock to each other at the remarkable recalcitrance. Spitting with anger, the priest ordered Daralis' pyre be reduced of wood, so that she may burn slower for her insubordination. The fires were lit, and the crowd began their noise once again.
The flames started slowly, then roared at the edges where they were better fed by wood bundles and the bodies of the two repentants. Daralis and her fellow believer were in the middle of the four, and he screamed as the flames tore at him. The heat being greater by his stake he perished after a short while, head hanging limp, chin on chest, as the fire peeled skin from his flesh like burning paper. Daralis remained resolute as those around her incinerated. The fire eventually grew at her feet, mounting its assault on her humanity. As flames crept up toward her midriff, laying waste to her wrecked legs, Daralis stayed silent. Looking to the sky as it darkened and growled, threatening those beneath it, something took hold of the young woman. The burning young woman looked around, slowly, eyebrows furrowed and pain hollowing her expression. Her eyes appeared to make contact with every spectator facing her. It was unnerving.
The crowd quietened and an awe replaced their boorishness, as the tongues of the flames which danced and grew at Daralis seemed to give her strength. Daralis’ face then slackened and became serene, placated by an unseen benefactor, and lo; she moved her arms! Cradling the fire to her chest she appeared to be almost washing in the flames, which no longer roared and decimated, but appeared arms themselves, caressing her Daralis and bringing her comfort as if the arms of her ancestors, reaching out for her. The heat grew and Daralis’ plight now had the crowd in utter silence, agasp, as she looked upward and opened her mouth. What came out was not words or voice, but a high pitched scream like that of a kettle boiling. Her eyes widened as her cry became deafening for a second, then fell shut as small flames leapt from her mouth, and her head fell limp.
The pyre continued to burn as those in attendance stood or sat transfixed, unsure as to what they had just seen. Some called it a miracle, so lost for words were they. Even the sky seemed sated momentarily, until it suddenly opened downward, dousing the flames and corpses, crowd and city. Bringing an end to the day’s murder, and the appetite for it.